Æbleskivers at Standish Cafe
When my friends remember me, I hope the legacy of note includes my lifelong advocacy for brunch dessert. The favorite meal made of two meals too often presents the problem of whether to go sweet or savory. But I have the answer: Order a standout sweet dish — or two — for the table. There are no rules with brunch, including when to eat it. Inside the cozy Standish Cafe, brunch is served every day it's open, and that means there are six days a week for an opportunity to share some Danish æbleskivers ($14) with a friend.
Hardly a common restaurant dish, æbleskivers could best be described as small, round Dutch pancakes. The barely sweet batter has to be cooked in a special pan with little wells to form the proper shape. They also require a certain amount of babysitting that probably makes it hard to serve at restaurant capacity — they have to be flipped over, traditionally with two wooden sticks to get that ball shape.
Standish Cafe's are exceptional renderings of the traditional dish: crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Served simply with a dusting of powdered sugar and sides of real maple syrup and fresh-made jam, they are sublime in their simplicity.
Victoria Fremont and Joe Schlarbaum opened the cafe in the fall of 2018. Two longtime hospitality vets mean the menu is largely cafe classics all done with serious attention to detail: The forager's omelet is made with wild mushrooms, there's a breakfast hash made from Brussels sprouts and a burger comes with a swipe of horseradish-spiked sauce, giving the beef a steak-like oomph.
The cafe fills up daily with neighborhood fans, so go with patience and a friend who understands the value of brunch dessert. (Joy Summers)
2403 E. 38th St., Mpls., standish-cafe.com
Thai Hainanese chicken and rice at Hai Hai
Hai Hai will always be the place for coconut shrimp toast for a certain segment of the population. But that doesn't mean the forever favorites on the menu can't share space with some thrilling new dishes. Butternut squash wontons that evoke autumnal ravioli. Fried enoki mushrooms resembling calamari, only vegan. And Khao Man Gai ($19), the Thai version of a Chinese chicken dish. Hainanese chicken and rice looks simple on the plate, but a lot of work goes into it.
"People look at it and they're like, Oh, that looks like some boiled chicken and rice. But it just retains so much flavor," said Hai Hai chef/owner Christina Nguyen. "It's like the elegant solution for using all the parts of the chicken."
Nguyen poaches chicken breast, then uses the fatty poaching liquid to cook jasmine rice, giving it a velvety, silky body. The liquid is also served on the side as a powerfully chicken-y sipping broth. Accompaniments are cucumber, a little bundle of cilantro, and three dipping sauces where the Thai-ness of this dish comes through.
"It comes from the Hainan region in China, which is just a little bit north of Southeast Asia. But this dish has migrated down into places like Thailand and Vietnam, so everybody has their own version," Nguyen explained. She makes a flavor-packed fermented soybean sauce with ginger, garlic, cilantro and even some of that aromatic chicken broth. "It just looks like a brown sauce, but then you taste it, and your mouth is like, that's a flavor bomb of deliciousness."
And there's more that's new at Nguyen and partner Birk Grudem's two restaurants. They just launched happy hour this week at Hola Arepa, where they're serving the restaurant's first-ever burger on a gluten-free bun that's inspired by Brazilian cheese bread, plus a few other happy hour-only items. And stay tuned in the next couple weeks for a Hai Hai happy hour, as well. They'll have a version of a burger inside a griddled bao, plus a beef-and-crispy-potato stir fry modeled on a dish Nguyen helped prepare at a Vietnamese restaurant in Woodbury back in her teenage years. "You're basically eating beef and potato chips for dinner and it's so good." (Sharyn Jackson)
2121 University Av. NE., Mpls., haihaimpls.com
Sweets at Baba's Hummus House
We've raved about their creative, creamy hummus bowls. But on this visit to Baba's Hummus House, post lunch rush, we settled in with a cup of sahlab ($6) and a box of sweet treats. Sahlab is their seasonal drink special, and it doesn't contain coffee or tea, though it hints a bit at both — the spiced gingerbread/chai latte kind. It's actually a Middle Eastern drink that's more closely related to custard. Here, the "milk pudding" is made with nondairy oat milk and flavored with rosewater, pistachio and cardamom for a lovely wintry steamer.
At the counter, the "evil eye" caught our eye. The popular Middle Eastern symbol that wards off evil has been turned into a stunning macaron, the flavor of mustik (a kind of gum). There are four other flavors all worth sampling: Turkish coffee, kunafa, rosewater and baklava. We got a box of six macarons ($20), but you can get just that one cool blue eye for $3.75. The housemade halawa ($4), a crumbly sesame candy, rounded out our afternoon sweets fix. (S.J.)
2220 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., lovebabas.com
Crispy Fried Artichokes at the Rooftop at RH
The retail frenzy of the holiday season is in full effect and it seems like you can't swing a stocking without knocking over a gift display. After a crush of fun and fellow shoppers at Southdale Center, we needed a little zen break from the crazy. The natural response is to head over to the massive Restoration Hardware. The serene furniture store on the edge of the parking lot also comes with a top-floor restaurant that is simply a stunning location for ladies who lunch — which is exactly what we were cosplaying.
The dining room is surrounded in glass —it's like dining in a spacious greenhouse. At the center is a flowing fountain, and the room is lit by a dangling chandelier. Even though we were having a late lunch, I had a spectacular view of the sun beginning its descent.
The menu is a crowd-pleaser of sandwiches, salads and the sort, but as a lifelong artichoke appreciator, I wasn't prepared for the fried artichoke appetizer ($21). The abundant basket looked like they'd bloomed into shatteringly crisp snacky bits with a garlic aioli. Each leaf crumbled and crunched into a salty snack with a piney, earthy aroma from a dusting of rosemary. They were so good that we canceled the order of fries that were on deck and instead sank into the bliss of this lovely bowl.
Between these bites, the attentive service and the background splashing of water from the fountain, it was a welcome antidote to the rush of the holiday season. (J.S.)
6801 France Av. S., Edina, restorationhardware.com
Wild Rice Burger at Northbound Smokehouse
When Northbound Smokehouse and Brew Pub opened in 2012, the idea of a restaurant brewing its own beer was something of a novelty. Other than a chain restaurant in downtown Minneapolis, places to eat and places that made beer were mostly separate. Still, throughout the years with beers on tap and a menu filled with smoke-infused goods, this bar and restaurant is still a popular stop as the neighborhood around it has picked up all kinds of new retail opportunities.
One of its most famous dishes has to be the wild rice burger ($14) — so beloved it drew Food Network star Guy Fieri to the restaurant to mow it down along with a bowl of beer cheese soup. It's an exceptional burger with just the right balance of tender and chew; toasty nuttiness from the grains and a nice layer of cheese and mayo with crisp lettuce, tomato and onion.
It's a hearty bite on its own and one of the most beloved vegetarian burgers in the city. (J.S.)
2716 E. 38th St., Mpls., northboundbrewpub.com